Cloud-based Reporting and Budgeting for Microsoft Dynamics

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This article will discuss the intricacies of deploying financial reporting and budgeting solutions in the Cloud for more modern and flexible data management and analysis with Microsoft Dynamics.

Web-based reporting and budgeting, with Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms, are becoming more and more important for Microsoft Dynamics users, but for some, the whole concept might still seem a little bit confusing in regard to deployment, security, and functionality.  I understand this uncertainty.  Even though it seems pretty straightforward and is picking up momentum, we’re used to hosting our technology on premises, so we don’t have the hands-on experience of Cloud computing.  You probably have questions of access, cost, management, and security, which can be overwhelming.  Regardless, as Microsoft Dynamics customers, you have some powerful Business Intelligence (BI) options, and it will only give you a head start to know about the available solutions.  In this article, I will explore Cloud-based financial reporting and budgeting and some of the solutions for Microsoft Dynamics.

I think we should start with the positives.  Implementing Cloud-based financial reporting and budgeting tools is usually quicker because you are not installing on-premises.  The installation and maintenance of your Cloud solutions is the vendor’s responsibility.  This frees up the IT department from any involvement in the deployment or management of the software, and it functions on the vendor’s server, so it doesn’t slow down anything implemented by your IT team.  Cloud-based reporting and budgeting also evaluates performance requisites and auto-adjusts for peak performance times. Regarding security, Cloud technology manufacturers have responded to early user concerns by equipping software with powerful, modern security features.  Another element that gets discussed frequently is SaaS pricing.

We have covered a cost breakdown of on-premises versus SaaS on this blog before, but vendors from both sides are still asserting that their option is more cost effective in the long run.  When it comes to a return on investment (ROI), on-premises vendors claim that owning the software outright will pay for itself in 3 to 5 years, perhaps especially considering that monthly subscriptions don’t ever end with Cloud SaaS pricing.   On the other hand, Cloud tool vendors argue that hidden costs, including consulting, hardware, support, training, upgrades, and updates, diminish the value of owning your software on-premises.

I always suggest doing your own math: do your research about additional costs involved with both solutions and comprehensively add it up for 3-5 years.  And just to clarify: SaaS does not mean you are renting to own.  You are paying the software vendor to host your data, keeping it running and updated, without your IT department worrying about it.  But are SaaS and Cloud computing the same thing?

The quick answer is no, but they are related.  SaaS is basically a pricing model for technology, while Cloud computing is a web platform for software management that is offsite, as opposed to a method of managing software (that happens off site as opposed to on-premises).  With Cloud-based reporting and budgeting, your programs are managed off site, and your subscription means that you are basically renting that software through a SaaS pricing plan.  But you can also house your software on-premises, but instead of owning, you can rent through SaaS pricing.  Similarly, there two kinds of Cloud computing.

First up: pure Cloud software.  Two examples in the BI marketplace that produce Cloud-only applications are Adaptive Insights and Host Analytics.  Both independent software vendors host and manage financial reporting and/or budgeting off-site, popular because you have no responsibility for licensing, maintenance, upgrades or any hidden prices that might come with owning the software.

Because you will be running Microsoft Dynamics on-premises or in a separate cloud, your company data needs to be moved or replicated to the BI solution’s cloud, which limits the amount of Dynamics modules and information detail that you can continuously push into the BI Cloud solution from the accounting system.  Pure Cloud software like Adaptive Insights and Host Analytics cannot perform live reporting from Microsoft Dynamics since that information has to be moved into the software’s Cloud first.  Tools like Adaptive Insights or Host Analytics then become costs and additional BI solutions in addition to real-time, operational BI financial reporting application that accounting teams need to analyze up-to-the-minute data from Dynamics.

An alternative to the pure Cloud route is hybridity: Cloud and on-premises options in one product.  Implementing software like Jet Reports, TargIT, ZAP, or BI360 means you decide how you want to manage the software.  Several Cloud-hosting partner providers, like Data Resolution, Microsoft Azure, Rose ASP, SaaS Plaza, SMB Suite, or Tribridge’s Concerto, with others in the mix as well, will host a solution as a SaaS offering, so you can still avoid product management by the IT department.  And, maybe just as important, the BI solution can be hosted WITH the Dynamics ERP solution, so BI tools like Jet Reports and BI360 can still offer live ERP reporting.

With a hybrid platform, you can deploy in-house and then later, move into the Cloud – or vice versa, when you figure out which way is best for your particular business needs.  Moreover, because almost all approaches with a hybrid BI software like BI360 deploy in the Dynamics Cloud, you not only can report live off of your accounting system, but also report off a BI data warehouse.  And it is faster and simpler to update information from Dynamics to your chosen reporting or budgeting solution when you’re relying on a data warehouse or an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube.
If you do host some of your data sources on-premises and some in the cloud, a BI data store like a data warehouse would be an important investment.  You are going to need a BI data store to power your BI front-end programs, like reports, dashboards, and data discovery by coming together in one repository.  Is Cloud computing less confusing now?

I hope so – Cloud-based reporting and budgeting solutions are pretty much either a pure Cloud or a hybrid solution.  Both are SaaS pricing products because they are hosted off-site.  It will be imperative for you to assess your need for live reporting and flexibility in deployment, with costs as another important consideration, when thinking about your company goals.  There is plenty to consider, but as Cloud-based reporting and budgeting becomes more important, it will be worth your time.  Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review the hybrid Cloud option, BI360, as easy-to-use Excel, web, and mobile BI tools with both real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis, budgeting and collaboration as a way to accelerate company performance management for Microsoft Dynamics.